Meet SAP CMO Jonathan Becher

Feature Article | February 2, 2012 by Jennifer Lankheim

SAP.info:  Wikipedia defines CMO, rather dryly, as “a corporate title referring to an executive responsible for various marketing activities in an organization.” Jonathan, how do you view the role and – more generally – the role of the CMO in these rapidly changing, novel times?

Jonathan Becher: I think marketing is fundamentally changing, and we’re only starting to understand how. In the past, marketing’s job was to control the message. That is, we’d sit down and say: these are the adjectives we want people to use to describe this particular product. We want people to think of it as “thin” and “fast” and “this” and “that.” Then we’d create brochures, presentations, websites, etc., based on that, brief the analysts and so on. Those days are gone. Today, you can only control the message in very limited ways. Now it’s more of a seed and orchestrate model.

Take social media: you can’t control it. When you see something going in the wrong direction you can step in and try to help steer things back on track. But if you believe in the value of community – and I more than anything else believe in the value of the community – you don’t censor or self-correct.

Also, the line between who creates the content and who consumes the content is almost gone and we need to embrace this. I can imagine a day where sap.com is not just corporate-controlled content, but instead has third-party offers and content published directly from customers and partners. Yes, that means there may come a day when there’s a less-than-favorable comment on the homepage, but that’s not necessarily bad. If it isn’t true, the community will debunk it very quickly. If it is true – well – it’s the voice of the market and we can address it now that we’re aware. Being open to the voice of the market – good and bad – is how we get better at what we do.

Next page: Do “marketing people” actually bring value to customers?

Our readers include many SAP users and customers. To put it bluntly, why should this constituency care about you and the SAP marketing organization? Are you just the oft-derided “marketing people” or does the marketing function bring value to customers and users?     

(Laughs) Well, I might be biased, but I think that we “marketing people” do add value.

One way relates to what people think of as the typical, outbound function of marketing:  How a company takes the value proposition for its products and solutions and describes it in such a way that customers and prospects and analysts – the market – can understand what it means to them.

I think that SAP, like many technology companies, has gotten a bit caught up in using the language of technology rather than the language of the customer. A very simple example of that is for years we said “business user solutions” in relation to our analytics or Business Intelligence portfolio. We were obsessed with that language, even though the average person would never use that terminology or even think of themselves or their users in those terms. So, at SAP, we’re working toward a much more outside-in approach to make sure what we’re saying about our products and solutions isn’t in the “marketingese” that we’ve created, but is in the language that the customer and the market uses and understands.

This is even more important when you consider that we’re not just speaking to the technology market, but also to the general, end-user market – the customer’s customer. It benefits our customers when their customers understand and internalize, “companies who run SAP run better,” and therefore are more competitive and have better solutions.

Next page: What about the voice of the market?

What about less traditional marketing functions?

The customer benefits when a marketing organization looks beyond that outbound function and becomes more active in the forums where customers are already talking about things, when we listen to the market and the customers directly – even when they’re saying something we don’t necessarily want to hear – rather than just talking at them.

SAP Community Network is a great example. There are millions of people in the SAP ecosystem – partners, customers, employees, etc. – having conversations, asking and answering questions. This is a great place for a marketing person to listen and find things that might be missing, or may not be working, in the product portfolio. If marketing is listening – and we at SAP are – the customer benefits because marketing is at the table when decisions are made about the product portfolio, and we now can better represent the customer’s interest and amplify the voice of the market.

Can you give us an example of how this has worked at SAP – where the voice of the market, in this case via SCN, informed the business of SAP?

With in-memory and SAP HANA, we were initially evangelizing the value of using the HANA architecture for both decision-making and applications. The community came back with, “Great, but what about Business Warehouse? That’s how we’ve stored data for years.”

It was clear that this was the most important project we could do for customers, as opposed to some of the other things we planned to do, so we switched gears and announced a product called BW on SAP HANA last September. That’s a product-oriented thing that came from the voice of the customers.

Next page: A switch from “us selling to you” to “you buying from us.”

Are there other ways that at SAP marketers are adding value to the customer?

Yes, by democratizing the process of customers finding out whether or not SAP is for them. We want to simplify the process of learning about SAP products, trying them out, comparing them to other products in the market, and then acquiring them. An early experiment at SAP is with Carbon Impact OnDemand – a product that allows companies to compare their carbon usage with other companies and then generate reports on their progress using www.sapcarbonimpact.com, where people can access all the typical presentations and pitches. They can go through it on their own time and in their own way. They can explore and learn about the features and the functions of the product without talking to anybody. You can even benchmark yourself and try out the solution for free, comparing data anonymously. Then you can get a quote and – coming soon – even buy the solution. It’s a switch from “us selling to you” to “you buying from us.”

Is this the so-called consumerization of enterprise software that we hear so much about? 

Yes, it’s one facet of it – incorporating valuable aspects, like ease of use and instant value, from the consumer world. It’s a very different way of supporting the business; it’s the way a line of business person would think about acquiring software or maybe the way you might buy software in your personal life.

It doesn’t work for everything. You’re probably not going to buy a $10 million deployment without talking to anyone, but it works for smaller, consumable things.

For that other side of the coin, it’s important to still offer access to the high-touch approach. So, with Carbon Impact OnDemand, after trying everything out, a customer can still say, “You know what? I’m not ready yet. I want a sales person to talk to me. I want an RFP.” The system can even recommend questions to ask and other companies they might want to investigate and compare to the SAP solution – all in a very open way.

It’s very much the way things are going in the consumer insurance world – “We’ll compare our services and prices with our competitors and show you the result.” Again, openness is key.

Being open and transparent is really the only way to be for marketers in this day and age who want any credibility.

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In this video interview, Jon Reed, SAP Mentor and independent analyst, further discusses the new rules of marketing with Jonathan Becher, SAP CMO.

 

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